This guest post is by my former Chicago Public Schools student Alondra Alcazar.
While growing up, everything was normal to me. Waking up to the delicious smell of huevos con chorizo and chilaquiles and the sound of my mom giving praise to Juan Gabriel was what made my Saturday mornings distinct. However, it wasn’t pleasant smelling Pine Sol and Fabuloso since that meant my morning would begin with the full house clean-up ritual. Coming from a predominantly Latino community meant that my education was also influenced by its rich culture. Bilingual classes in my elementary school and Hispanic culture in my Latino high school located on the southwest side of Chicago are what formed my intellectual abilities.
Riding the bus after school while listening to music was the only time I had to myself. My eyes would wander out the window I leaned against and–in the own little world I had created–I would observe my neighborhood and the people in it. Chicago is an enormous city, and although it was impossible to familiarize myself with all of the those that lived around me, I still connected with them.
In the morning I road the bus with students, and after a long day of after school activities, I would ride the bus back home with people coming out of work. I recognized the people without actually knowing them, and in some way I felt secure.
As a senior in high school, I tried to grasp every face I could because I knew that soon, I would be graduating and heading off to college.
In the small ranchos of western México, my parents heard that the United States was the “land of opportunity.” They blindly came to this country without a guaranteed future and expectations of a better life. Twenty-five years later, my parents haven’t mastered the English language but if any part of them is Americanized, it is the belief that the only way to succeed in this country is to receive a great education.
They knew I had to continue my education but weren’t sure how that was going to happen. I am guilty of blaming my parents for their lack of organization and future planning since saving up for college funds was not something immigrant parents were aware of. Being a first-generation citizen and college student meant I had to figure everything out on my own–which wasn’t a surprise since independence came with the exchange of hard working parents.
Three hours away from Chicago, Albion College welcomed me for the upcoming graduating class of 2020. Excitement, nervousness, and doubt filled my mind as I travelled to my “new home.” The faces I once saw when I rode the bus disappeared, and I no longer felt safe. I knew and understood the demographics of Albion College: predominately white with the hope of greater diversity in the future. In the first couple days of classes, icebreakers overruled class lectures. As one of the only Hispanics in my class–Spanish class was the exception–I noticed the students had completely different lives than me.
In high school, I was considered the teacher’s pet since my constant participation in class was favored among my teachers. However, at Albion, I was intimidated to speak in class since everyone spoke perfect English. I never knew I had an accent until a classmate pointed it out and asked, “Where are you from?”
I was never aware of the Hispanic culture that expelled itself in my speech. My home formed my tongue, adapting me to the belief that everyone spoke like me. At college, people weren’t satisfied when I answered that I was from Chicago, but then again they were asking the wrong questions.
Microaggressions became something I commonly experienced, even though I didn’t know what that term meant then. “How does it feel to go back to México?” was a question that stripped a part of my identity. I am very proud of my Latin roots; however, being born in the U.S. is something I am very thankful for–the part that makes me a privileged individual.
Second semester of college, I regained my confidence. I am well aware that my teeth bites my tongue towards certain words I can’t pronounce. I educated people instead of acting on emotion since I had to understand that they too had never encountered difference.
Transitioning into a different state and with a different group of people has made me value my position here and the decisions I have made. I sincerely believe that I was destined to create diversity awareness on campus. My plan is to exceed in my academic performance and enhance my work ethic. My family’s struggles are the source of my motivation. I am dedicated to create a better life for my family and all those like us. Although I was used to connecting with the usual, I can now familiarize myself with change.
Alondra Alcazar is a sophomore at Albion College in Michigan.
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